11/24/2004 1:00AM

'Leroi' gets ready for his close-up

Benoit & Associates
When all eyes were on the Breeders' Cup, Leroidesanimaux was winning the Morvich.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Leroidesanimaux has won graded stakes on racing's biggest days this year - just in the wrong town.

When the nation's focus was on the Kentucky Derby on May 1, Leroidesanimaux won the Grade 3 Inglewood Handicap at Hollywood Park. On Oct. 30, Breeders' Cup Day, Leroidesanimaux was the star at Santa Anita, winning the Grade 3 Morvich Handicap.

Saturday at Hollywood Park, on a day when California will be firmly in the national spotlight, Leroidesanimaux makes his first start in an American Grade 1 in the $400,000 Citation Handicap.

The Citation, run at 1 1/16 miles on turf, could finally put Leroidesanimaux in the national focus and vault him into the top echelon of turf horses.

two Grade 3 stakes wins came in his last two starts, and extended the 4-year-old colt's winning streak to four. Were it not for an undisclosed injury that sidelined him for the six months between the two races, Leroidesanimaux might already be well known.

Owned by Stud T N T and trained by Bobby Frankel, Leroidesanimaux will carry 117 pounds in the Citation, three fewer than starting highweights Nothing to Lose and Special Ring.

Much of Leroidesanimaux's competition will come from his stablemates. Frankel has three runners in the Citation, including Nothing to Lose and Three Valleys, a recent arrival from England.

Nothing to Lose won the Shadwell Mile at Keeneland last month, but finished 11th in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Frankel said Nothing to Lose lost a shoe in that race.

Three Valleys has not started since finishing 11th in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in May. Prior to that, he won the Coventry Stakes at the 2003 Royal Ascot meeting and placed in two major stakes - the Dewhurst Stakes last year and the Craven Stakes last April.

"They're all three live horses," Frankel said.

Frankel was not sure what to make of Leroidesanimaux's form when the colt arrived at his barn last year. In three starts in Brazil, Leroidesanimaux had finished sixth in a stakes in his debut, beaten maidens by 11 1/2 lengths, and finished second in a Group 1 stakes at a mile on turf.

Not even the Group 1 placing excited Frankel.

"That was in Brazil," he said.

His opinion changed quickly earlier this year.

After finishing fourth on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita in an allowance race, Leroidesanimaux rebounded to win two allowance races at a mile on turf, scoring by 2 3/4 lengths on Jan. 31 and by three-quarters of a length on March 20. The performances told Frankel that Leroidesanimaux belonged in stakes.

"He should have won the first one, too, but he was stuck inside," Frankel said.

Jon Court rode Leroidesanimaux for the first time in the Inglewood Handicap, which, like the Citation, is run at 1 1/16 miles on turf. Court was given the mount a month after he relocated from Kentucky, on a day when many of the top Southern California jockeys were riding the Kentucky Derby program.

In the Inglewood, Leroidesanimaux faced pressure on the lead from the start and pulled away in early stretch to win by two lengths at 5-1. The final time of 1:38.45 was a Hollywood course record.

Leroidesanimaux was supplemented to the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile in late May, but was withdrawn two days before the race when he suffered an injury, the nature of which Frankel declined to disclose. He did not start again until Oct. 30, when he rallied from fourth to win the Morvich Handicap by 1 1/4 lengths at 3-1. The winning time for about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course was a quick 1:11.76.

"He made up a lot of ground in the final yards," Court said. "He can come from behind the speed horses as well as lay on the front end."

The versatility could help when Leroidesanimaux faces his toughest test in the Citation, the richest race in the nation on Saturday.